I love the Catholic Church. When a church has been around as long as it has (roughly four times as long as the Protestant Reformation, which was 495 last October 31st), you have the time to examine every aspect of your faith in great detail. The history of the Catholic Church is a testament to the strength of New Covenant between God and humankind as it reveals the high and low points of an institution started by Christ but left in the hands of flawed human beings for nearly two thousand years (1500 or so years of that time as the sole Christian church). It doesn’t matter what point of theology you are researching, it’s a good idea to start with the Catholics. It’s a strong bet that they’ve thought of it, discussed it in detail, perhaps gotten into a fight over it, and possibly even burned someone at the stake about it. It makes for lots of interesting reading. For instance, does it seem to you that there are two stories of creation in the Book of Genesis, one in the first chapter and a slightly different one in the second chapter starting in verse 4b? Well, you’re right! The Catholics know that there are two — the first is a description of the creation of all mankind and second is a description of the creation of the Jewish race, which prepared a place for the coming of Christ — and they’ve got the writings of the early church fathers to prove it. After all, if there weren’t other people besides the family of Adam and Eve in the world, where did Cain get his wife? If you’d like to read those original documents about the early discussions of the dual creation stories — forget it! If, however, you are a Catholic, say, a Jesuit priest with a doctorate in Canon Law, you might get a view of them for your research. Dr. John Wrigley, my professor for Medieval History at UNCC, got to see them while he was a Jesuit doing research. He described reading the documents while using little, wooden paddles to maneuver the pages so that your hands never actually touched them — paddles whose handles were black from the perspiration of a thousand years worth of scholars using them. You have to admit, there is a great weight of authority there.
So, when, in the course of my reading, I stumbled over a reference to two revelations; I headed to the Catholic dictionary on the web. They were there and neither one was the “The Revelation to John” from the “New Testament” of the Bible that I was expecting. Instead, they were listed as the general and the special revelations. The “special” revelation was the entire body of Holy Scripture, culminating in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate revelation of God to the children of God. Included in this category are things like direct conversations with God, visions, human conscience, and miracles — things which have no explanation in the natural world. The “general” revelation was the world and all that is in it, including human reason and scientific discoveries. I find this interesting because we Protestants have always seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the world. Yes, we can be overwhelmed by the beauty of the world (and, having just come back from there, I can report that the Carolina mountains are in magnificent splendor) and we sing “For the beauty of the earth…” Then, we turn around and sing “This world is not my home…” refusing the earthly creation of God for His heavenly one. The Bible sort of adds to this confusion. In Matthew 6:28-34, Jesus uses the natural, earthly creations to demonstrate a point He makes about the uselessness of worry. Several times in the Gospel of John, however, Jesus specifically refers to Himself as not being of the world. So the question arises, “How should we respond to the physical world?”
Part of the problem is the nature of some of the things which God chose to create for this world. Many of them have the capability to be both useful and dangerous. Fire gives us light, heat, and cooked food if we are careful, but destroys our possessions and turns us into crispy critters if we are not. A tiny atom can provide limitless power or blow us all to the moon. Passion fills our lives with purpose when it is controlled but drives us crazy when it isn’t. Often, it is the attitude that we take toward a creation of God that determines the result we get from interacting with it and that attitude is purely our choice. It is the free will which God allows us to have that gives us the capability of making a choice — God loves us as His children and does not want us to be slaves.
In the natural world as created by God, nothing is, of itself, evil. Almost anything, however, including the name and authority of God to the extent He has allowed us to use them, can be turned to do evil. As Christians, we must examine daily the uses to which we put the things God has placed before us in this world. Our thoughts, words, actions — all are ours to control. The devil never makes us do it — we alone can do that. This world may not be our home, but it is our mirror. In it, we see ourselves — we are revealed to ourselves as God sees us. Two revelations? Yes. In one, the nature of Jesus, the Son of God, is revealed to us. In the other, the nature of us, the people of God, is revealed to us. How are we looking these days, do you think?
~ Kurt Hendrix